This was a weekend with a disruptive sense of time. It made me think of an essay by the poet Wendell Berry, “An Entrance to the Woods” in which he describes making a trip to a forest in Kentucky. He leaves work, drives hard over the interstate highways for over an hour, then finally arrives at his destination. But he has a sense that he has not really arrived. He’s restless and uneasy, not comfortable in the intense silence of a forest he has loved in the past. He said his body was telling him that “people can’t change places as rapidly as their bodies can be transported.” Making the trip by way of the freeway, his mind was not yet fully there. In the past, he took the slower back roads and the acclimatization happened much more organically. He states, “the faster we go…the longer it takes to bring the mind to a stop in the presence of anything.” It wasn’t until the next morning that he was able to enter into the place for the first time. Only then could he say, “I move in the landscape as one of its details.”
My summer show opened in Provincetown on Friday night. Seeing my new work in a different context, grouped by a different set of eyes, is its own kind of mind/body journey. But that good night was followed close upon by an early morning flight to a wedding in a Pennsylvania. The euphoria of celebrating and dancing the night away with friends may have masked any differential in arrival times of body and spirit. That much reveling feels like a blast of full body joy.
Shifting again, I spent Sunday at the 55th Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, a contemporary show themed loosely (and I do mean loosely) around Is there Life on Mars? A big yes to a few of the artists whose work was included in that show—Bruce Conner, recently deceased California artist, consistently moving Vija Celmins and a young Indian artist, Ranjani Shettar.
Conner was a highly unpredictable artist who refused to be pigeonholed into any of the isms and labeling that are so rampant in contemporary art. Some of his work in the past has moved me, some has not. But Conner’s Angel series, photograms made from large sheets of light-sensitive paper exposed to a beam of light from a projector, are unforgettable. These images were created without a camera and feel apparition-like and other worldly. It was hard to not feel a bit weepy looking at these hauntingly beautiful works knowing that Conner passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 74. Adieu to one of the brave ones.
Vija Celmins, whose image, Night Sky, won the Carnegie Prize, had a room full of her characteristically delicate paintings and drawings. I always find her work so insistently deep and authentic. She is one of the contemporary masters at holding tension between surface and depth.
Ranjani Shettar’s installation held me breathless. She created an updated version of Indra’s net out of a web of threads and hand-molded beeswax balls. It suggested outer space, multidimensional rabbit holes, the metaphor of a network that holds all of us in connection to one another. Exquisite.
The last leg of the journey was spent at Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece. I have been before, but I have never seen it in the context of the wild rhododendron forest of the Laurel Highlands. It is a flotilla of perfection, perched above those waterfalls and still, after all these years, an utterly compelling encounter.
Back home, most of the essential parts of me have returned with my body. Or maybe not. I’m still feeling these very distinct but powerful invitations to step out of the ordinary, whatever ordinary is, and to move in the landscape—both man made and natural—as one of its details.
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